Only in the precarious peace of Eire could Europe today provide such a spectacle. At Dublin's Trinity College last month crowds were turned away from a jampacked scientific lecture.* Cabinet ministers, diplomats, scholars and socialites loudly applauded a slight, Vienna-born professor of physics. Erwin Schrödinger was speaking on the subject "What Is Life?"
Schrödinger has a way with him. His soft, cheerful speech, his whimsical smile are engaging. And Dubliners are proud to have a Nobel prizewinner living among them. But what especially appeals to the Irish is Schrödinger's study of Gaelic, Irish music and Celtic design, his hobby of making tiny doll-house furniture with textiles woven on a midget Irish loomand, above all, his preference for a professorship at the Dublin Advanced Studies Institute to one at Oxford.
Schrödinger is a mathematical mystic. Says he: "There is no worldly truth but mathematical truth. In politics, history and diplomacy, truth changes from day to day and people get different concepts of right. But mathematics never lie."
Schrödinger's mathematics, however. true, is rarely intelligible to the public. His Nobel Prize achievement, ten years ago, was devising wave mechanics to reconcile the seeming contradictions in the nature of light. Light unquestionably has a wave motion, yet it obeys the quantum laws as if it were composed of particles or small bundles of energy. Schrödinger imagined a sub-ether filled with ripples too small for detection. He conceived of a "particle" of light as an "area of ripples," a wave-throb that is detectable by instruments.
A Unified Universe. Today Schrödinger is concerned with a deeper problemthe same one that has occupied Albert
Einstein in recent years : to provide a fundamental explanation for both gravitation and electromagnetic attraction.
Electromagnetic fields so far are inde pendent, apart from other phenomena, do not satisfy the scientists' yearning for fundamental unity. The mathematical struggle is not to handle them in practical terms, nor to add further dimensions to space-time in order to account for them; it is to devise a mathematical treatment that will reveal their unity with the world of space, time, matter and energy. Schrödinger has found this in an "affine" geometry, which deals with pure concepts in their essence, not with measurement in the ordinary sense. He now claims to have "unified" gravitation with electromagnetic fields.
But if Erwin Schrödinger, as his lecture title suggests, has also attempted to fit life into his equations, he has gone beyond the ambitions of any other mathematician. In that case, it is small wonder that he fascinates the imaginative Irish.
* Prewar U.S. precedent: In January 1930, a crowd of 4,000, trying to squeeze into 1,400 seats at Manhattan's American Museum of Natural History for a showin of a film on Einstein's relativity theory, pushed down an iron gate, shoved a heavy door off its hinges.
He left his professorship at University of Berlin in 1933 for four years at Oxford, thence went to Graz in Austria, finally to Dublin in 1938.